Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea’

Mark Ruwedel: Westward the Course of Empire

February 28, 2009
Mark Ruwedel: Picacho and Colorado River #3, 2000

Mark Ruwedel: Picacho and Colorado River #3, 2000

Yossi Milo Gallery

Feburary 5 – March 14, 2009

Karen Rosenberg has a nice review of Mark Ruwedel’s exhibition Westward the Course of Empire, and successfully covers the historical and aesthetic context, but the exhibition raises a number of additional questions. Ruwedel re-traces railroad lines across the American West, photographing the deteriorating infrastructure. In many instances the lines are completely abandoned, recognizable only by the scars left by their grading or the splinters of the ties and trestles. Beautifully printed, Ruwedel (I believe) shoots 8×10” black and white film and contact prints, dry-mounting on 16×20″ mat board. The artist titles each work in pencil directly on the mount, describing the name of the railroad line, for example Canadian Pacific #3. Rosenberg makes all of the right references to the New Topographics (in particular Robert Adams) and Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson.

The press release says Ruwedel “acts as an archivist,” but this is not the most accurate term. “Archivist” usually describes someone who organizes an existing collection of materials, whereas Ruwedel is himself creating material—to use the term is to de-emphasize his authorial role. Partially this misuse of terminology may arise due to fashion, witness the outstanding exhibition last year at ICP, Archive Fever, curated by Okwui Enwezor. Rosenberg perpetuates this idea, writing, “The presentation tends toward the archival.” But the photographs are framed and hung on the walls, in a typological style, and the pencil titling is an affected throw-back rather than an earnest attempt at filing and labelling. I’ve read somewhere that the artist considers the landscape as a repository of histories. Is the landscape an archive, or do landscapes simply bare the traces of prior events? Ruwedel is in a sense a person who creates an archive; he is documenting a set of sites that highlight technologic and historic entropy. Is to document the same as to archive?

What Ruwedel is doing may be more accurately attributed to atavism, that is, a reversion to a previous photographic form (a term taken from George Baker, again). As Rebecca Solnit’s book River of Shadows elegantly makes clear, the history of photography and the history of the railroad are inextricably bound as contemporaneous modern technologies at the height of Enlightenment aspirations. But in the American West the relationship is even more explicit, with photographic luminaries like Watkins and Jackson frequently hired by the railroad companies (as well as government land surveys) to document their industrious advances. Some of the most pristine prints from this era survive in large bound portfolios supplied by the photographers to their corporate employers. Photography and railroad were twin pillars of the Manifest Destiny propelling westward development. Ruwedel pays lip service to this spirit – albeit ironically – in the title of the exhibition, and also explicitly in compositions that echo his 19th century predecessors. The artist very deliberately adopts the formal strategies of a previous age, highlighting a genetic connection between photographs.

Baker sees contemporary photography operating between the dialectics of abstraction and atavism. Extending Baker’s argument, Ruwedel clearly operates according the Barthesian this has been. There is a timeliness to such images of collapse, but from a certain liberal or neo-Marxist position such a reading might be inevitable regardless of the S&P 500 rating. Given the formal elegance of the images and their loaded aesthetic history, in as much as they suggest an “infinite return,” they are also an ode to entropy, and therefore point to the future as well as the past.

Allora & Calzadilla: Stop, Repair, Prepare

February 25, 2009
Allora & Calzadilla: Step, Repair, Prepare

Allora & Calzadilla: Stop, Repair, Prepare


January 23 – February 21, 2009

Saturday afternoon your faithful correspondent briefly absconded from his desk, slithering down the block to Barbara Gladstone to witness the final performance of Allora & Calzadilla’s exhibition Stop, Repair, Prepare. The artists have cut a hole in the center of a Bechstein piano, from which a rotation of seven pianists performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” every hour on the hour during gallery hours for the duration of the exhibition. The performer is given license to improvise, and pushes the instrument (on large casters) throughout the gallery. Blending sculpture and performance, the result is incredibly fascinating. With the keys arranged backwards from their normal progression and forced to play the entire composition upside-down, the virtuosity of the performer is an endless source of wonder.

At least 14 strings are missing from the piano to accommodate the performer; as a result the musical score has been re-arranged, pushing notes to the higher and lower registers of the keyboard. Towards the end of the final performance, pianist Sun Jun began to play the keys from which strings had been removed. Despite lacking the intended tune, the rhythm of the music was maintained—creating a surprising experimental interlude. The anthropomorphism of the piano creates a surreal object that suggests Jamie Isenstein’s sculptural explorations of performance via David Cronenberg’s Crash—the apotheosis of man and machine intermingled. It is a fantastical, strange sight to see a piano shepherding a crowd of over one hundred people around the otherwise bare gallery, bottlenecking between rooms.

Without the aid of the press release the viewer might not know that “Ode to Joy” has played a role in historical events as far ranging as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Third Reich, and the European Union— raising questions about the many lives of canonical artworks, and their appropriation into systems and ideologies beyond the intents of their authors. While the specific history of this composition might not be self-evident, the work successfully engages the same conceptual interests through the literal embodiment of the performer in the instrument. Breaking down the boundaries between performer and instrument, composition and performance, all of these normally distinct categorizations are intertwined. As such the music is malleable to the identity and will of its handlers, incapable of transcending its context under such conditions. Thus politics, history and ideology come to bear on the performance or presentation of a work of art.

Japanese Whiskey Consumption is Down

February 22, 2009

santori_perrinpostIn order to give this post some relevance to the art world, I’ll mention that the dominant “rhetorical” flourish in Chelsea right now would have to be a gallows humor.

There’s an interesting article from the Grey Lady about the culture effects of the 1990s economic downturn in Japan (and by obvious extension, what could happen in the United States today). Here’s the lede:

As recession-wary Americans adapt to a new frugality, Japan offers a peek at how thrift can take lasting hold of a consumer society, to disastrous effect.

But my favorite part:

Sales of whiskey, the favorite drink among moneyed Tokyoites in the booming ’80s, have fallen to a fifth of their peak.

To someone who was about three years old when Tokyoites reached the apex of whiskey consumption, this mostly recalls Bill Murray’s half-hearted attempts as Santori spokesman in Lost in Translation. (By contrast my whiskey consumption is up by 950% since the 80s, with no decline in sight – I’m thinking of releasing bonds.) Japanese businessmen may have cut out their favorite vices cold turkey, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case here…

When Consumers Cut Back: A Lesson from Japan

On Kawara: One Million Years

February 10, 2009

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

David Zwirner

January 14 – February 14, 2009

Time is not abstract, per se, it is rather so concrete, so indelible as to be all encompassing. It defies easy representation. As a result we are left with a multitude of metaphors—a line, a river, a train—of varying degrees of usefulness. (Daniel Birnbaum’s book Chronology is a wonderful essay on the phenomenology of time and how contemporary film and video artists have created their own models of time.)

As theme (and medium) time is a basic concern for any artist. Yet few have taken it as their subject matter as unflinchingly as On Kawara. A monumental work in every sense of the word, Kawara’s One Million Years is currently being recorded live in an exhibition at David Zwirner gallery. The project is made up of two parts, One Million Years (Past) and One Million Years (Future), compiled in a 20 volume collection. Together these projects contain the written dates of 2,000,000 years, one million years each going back and forward. Thus the two volumes include the years 998,031 B.C. through 1969 A.D. and 1996 A.D. through 1,001,995 A.D. Each volume is comprised of 2,068 photocopied pages, each page containing rows of ten years.

The scale of One Million Years is almost unmatched by any contemporary artwork. Parallels might be found in Allan McCollum’s Shapes Project (2005-), where he produces unique graphic emblems for every person on the planet, or Douglas Huebler’s Variable series, in which Huebler attempted to photograph everyone on the planet. As the figures involved in each of these projects approaches the millions (and billions), there is an element of the sublime; the successes and failures to enact and complete these projects reveals the actuality of what those numbers represent, essentially moving from abstraction—in which these numbers are “beyond recognition”—to the concrete and comprehendible.

Although in its original form One Million Years is exhibited like archival records, the performed and recorded presentation places it within the conceptual framework of real, lived time. Moving away from the bureaucratic, to consider the bound volumes as scripts is to realize their true form, existing and unfolding in time.

The on-site sound studio records readers working in two-hour shifts, with the even years read by a female and the odd years by a male. My partner and I signed up to read about a week ago, on a Monday when the gallery was closed to the public. Coincidentally, gallery owner David Zwirner and his wife were the readers preceding us. Even without the distractions of a viewing public, performance anxiety was inevitable; I was concerned about growing bored, about making too many mistakes, about mumbling, about struggling through my cold. But once we started, all of that receded. We were dealing with immense, wordy numbers, the kind that get stuck in your teeth and roll on your tongue like cotton balls. Nine hundred forty six thousand six hundred thirty three. I had to focus. We would go long streches in perfect rhythm, and then suddenly make many mistakes in the course of ten years. One of us would accidentally read the other’s year. In counting, the numbers, despite their inescapable logic, begin to seem arbitrary. The scale of the task is so immense, why this number now?

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

I couldn’t help thinking of the fact that the original volumes of One Million Years, given their creation dates, must have been hand produced on a typewriter. Today a programmer could write a few lines of code in a couple of hours and have a computer generate each of the dates. The same process could similarly enact a digitally generated “reading” of the dates. But human labor is an important component of the project as well, as it brings the geologic, monumental scale of the project to the level of human experience. My partner asked if many of the readers had accents, and the sound engineer replied that while Kawara wanted a sort of “level American accent” for the recording, in fact the readers represented a diverse range, with English readings accented by Italian, German, Japanese, Argentinian, South African readers. The result is inevitably a polyphonic, and populist, experience.

About Time and in time, the reading of One Million Years makes manifest this incomprehensible collection of dates. But in the litany of years, a caesura opens between the actuality of eons and their representation as a list of numbers. Each year takes a couple of seconds to read. At the ambitious rate of 27 CDs recorded per year, it will take 100 years to record the entirety of Kawara’s project; through this process of representation, two million years will be compressed into a single lifetime. Even compressed by a factor of 20,000, this conception of time astounds. Without a leap of the imagination, one stands over the vertiginous chasm opened by this representation. One wonders then why Kawara chose not to include the years 1970 through 1995 in either of the volumes Past or Future. This omission is clearly not incidental, and yet only partially overlaps the years between the creation of each volume. What was the intention—was it personal, autobiographical? A conspicuous absence, such a gap humanizes an otherwise overwhelming system.

Nobuyoshi Araki: 1960s Photographs

February 5, 2009
Ginza (3205-1), Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Ginza (3205-1), Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Anton Kern Gallery

January 8 – February 7, 2009

Araki is best known for his erotic photography, but this exhibition attempts to expand the historical and critical reception of his work by folding it into the dominant, accepted narratives of Western street photography. In this traditional incarnation, the art of photography lies within the ability to convert looking into seeing. Editing, or the process of reduction (and ontologically, exclusion), is essential to photography, particularly photography of the street. The exhibition at Anton Kern, with the insipid title 1960s Photographs, clearly attempts to place Araki in the grand tradition of street photography running through Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and innumerable others by calling on the what is arguably the apotheosis of the genre via John Szarkowski’s Photographs Department at the Museum of Modern Art. In fact the best comparison might be to Garry Winogrand, particularly for anecdotal reasons. At the end of his life, Winogrand’s compulsion to photograph relentlessly drained any art from the process. Szarkowski writes:

At the time of his death in 1984 more than 2,500 rolls of exposed film remained undeveloped, which seemed appalling, but the real situation was much worse. An additional 6,500 rolls had been developed but not proofed. Contact sheets (first proofs) had been made from some 3,000 additional rolls, but only a few of these bear the marks of even desultory editing.

*(quoted in Geoff Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment 242 but originally from Szarkowski’s The Works of Garry Winogrand)

One imagines a factory in which commodities on the assembly line never reach the next stages of production, moving along lonely conveyor belts before eventually falling into a pile at the end. With over 350 books, and nearly 300 prints just in this exhibition, Araki’s scopophilia seems restrained in comparison to Winogrand’s unfulfilled mania. Nonetheless, the installation at Anton Kern is visually daunting, with two long walls covered by large prints from the Ginza series, and another in sparse rows and groupings vaguely resembling Braille covers Subway. A fourth wall contains a dozen small vintage photographs of a familiar Araki trope: the vogueing nude model. Other than these last works, all of the images are black and white prints, directly pinned to the wall. It is a fortunate choice: Framing and glazing the photographs would inhibit the collisions and accumulations that are vital to the force of Araki’s work.


2009 Installation View, Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

To comment on the structural logic to the exhibition’s presentation, a quote from Brian Massumi’s helpful introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus is useful:

Nomad thought replaces the closed equation of representation, x = x = not y (I = I = not you) with an open equation:… + y + Z + A +… (arm +brick+window+…). Rather than analyzing the world into discrete components, reducing their manyness to the One of identity, and ordering them by rank, it sums up a set of disparate circumstances in a shattering blow. It synthesizes a multiplicity of elements without effacing their heterogeneity or hindering their potential for future rearranging (to the contrary). The modus operandi of nomad thought is affirmation, even when its apparent object is negative. (Univ of Minnesota Press, xiii)

The gridded presentation normalizes a syntactical structure within which to understand the Ginza series. Placed within the grid, no single image outstrips any other in importance; sequencing and linearity become arbitrary. But Araki’s work is also anti-typological. Contemporaneous to the Ginza series, Bernd and Hilla Becher were developing their seminal studies of industrial forms. The dominant relationship between the images of the Bechers may be understood according to the closed equation of representation (water tower = water tower =not grain silo), while Araki’s installations adopt a different linguistic strategy altogether (…skirt + hair + jacket + school girls + old man… ad infinitum).

The Subway series invites inevitable comparison to Walker Evans. But while Evans was content to frame single images as discrete works, Araki has chosen to include sequential rows of images of the same subjects. Whatever he may have been after on these subway rides through Tokyo, one look wasn’t enough. Frequently he includes a three or as many as five shots of a single subway passenger. In one particularly poignant grouping, the photographer’s lens seemingly centered on the view between a woman’s legs (covered by pants) across the aisle, includes five images of the poor woman looking every which way except for at Araki. Clearly she knows she is being photographed, or at least watched, and tries to ignore the photographer’s intentions; inevitably this forms the very content of the sequence. The Evans mythology emphasizes him hiding his camera from his subway subjects; one wonders if Araki was so discrete, but suspects he might be more bold. The Subway series is installed in bands of groupings in about eight rows along one wall. The irregular gaps between images suggest that these are evoke splices in a timeline, bits of journeys documented and shown here as a partial record. The viewer is left to imagine the gaps in these subterranean voyages, privy only to a selection of private moments.

Installation, 2006, Anton Kern Gallery

2006 Installation View, Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery, NY

Araki’s previous exhibition at Anton Kern in 2006 included a section presenting highly saturated close-ups of flowers with his bondage images: an overly facile and adolescent, if standard comparison of objects of male desire with, ahem, flowering. These images were arranged in a way that referenced the magazine or book spread, with opposing groupings of two or three images. This gives rise to a familiar linear and rote reading that quickly becomes predictable once the conceit is recognized.

It is almost impossible to imagine Ginza reading effectively as a book, in which a reader is forced to turn the page to find more images. Araki simply doesn’t seem to have patience to wait for the turning of the page. The installation of Ginza simultaneously denies the imperative of any single image while highlighting discrete details in each photograph. No picture tells a story or reveals much about it’s subject. Instead there are tightly framed faces. A trio of skirts flipping as they cross the street. Old men encountered on the sidewalk. Araki’s style might be described as restless, and certainly a bit rapacious. All of the images begin to feel like minor transgressions, at least impositions in the snapping of the shutter. In this sense the work does take on an erotic quality. The viewer need not truly see all of the images to understand and appreciate the body of work. It is instructive to simply notice the way in which details emerge. Ultimately, Araki can’t stop looking, and once enter his system of seeing, neither can we.

While some reviewers of the exhibition suggest that the images in 1960s Photographs are incongruous with the erotic images that Araki is best known for, it seems that the Ginza and Subway series are clearly extensions, or precursors, to the explicit scopophilia that characterizes his bondage and fetish photographs. If Winogrand gave in to the machinic capacity of the camera to endlessly reproduce, attempting to Xerox the world, by contrast Araki uses the camera nomadically, accumulating maps of his desires from the world around him.

Charles Gaines: Manifestos

December 5, 2008



Kent Gallery

October 20 – December 20, 2008

Manifestos, Charles Gaines’s first exhibition in New York since 2000, is composed of a suite of drawings and videos related to the artist’s transcoding of four manifestos into musical scores. Beginning with seminal manifestos from the Black Panthers, Socialist Congress, Zapatistas, and Guy Debord, at every point in the texts where a letter corresponds to the letters in musical notation (a-g, and h for b-flat), that note is written into the musical score, with all other letters scored as rests. This Cage-ian methodology is consistent with earlier projects in which Gaines exploited dissonances between visual and textual (or aural) representation. The resulting music, performed by a piano quintet and played on four video screens that scroll the source text, is eerie and unsettling. Watching and listening, I could not help but try to glean some metaphorical meaning that Gaines’s system had transcribed from the source texts. But my desire for meaning was answered only with absence: The Zapatista Manifesto exclaims “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” in bold capital letters. But the musical iteration marks no distinction comparable to this typological embellishment—the same simple notes roll along without remark.

Faced with an opportunity to contemporize these historical texts, nostalgia could only be stifling. The desired metaphor was displaced by Gaines’s chosen metonym of the contiguous graphemes in written music and written language (the letters a-g). But ultimately these semantic parts signify different things. Comparing music and language, Gaines sets the stage for the irresolvable dialects of experience and logic, sentiment and intellect. Indifferent to these machinations, the manifestos remain tied to specific historical and social moments as artifacts. If we are to treat Gaines’s installation as a hermeneutic allegory, then we can move beyond this discursive dead-end. After each of the scores and videos has run consecutively, they play simultaneously in a layered, arranged composition that is complex and mature. Strangely, what the musical manifestos lack alone, they gain together through complexity, but at the loss of the simple, legible connections to the original letters and words. The music feels full, but it required the integration and degradation of these four canonical manifestos through an additional degree of abstraction. The transcoding opens these systems to expose our desires for transcendence. Gaines’s epistemological investigations are inherently political, and if we accept this model of interpreting history, then no text is sacred.